Addams & Brady Family Values

Christopher Lloyd, Christina Ricci, Christopher Hart, Raul Julia, Anjelica Huston, Carel Struycken, Kristen Hooper, Jimmy Workman, Carol Kane and John Franklin in Barry Sonnenfeld’s “Addams Family Values.” Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Christopher Lloyd, Christina Ricci, Christopher Hart, Raul Julia, Anjelica Huston, Carel Struycken, Kristen Hooper, Jimmy Workman, Carol Kane and John Franklin in Barry Sonnenfeld’s “Addams Family Values.” Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Though “22 Jump Street” has been generally well-received by critics and audiences, not all the word of mouth has been stellar. Many people voiced their aggravation that the film—in its attempt to send up unimaginative retreads—was little more than a retread itself, albeit a self-aware one. Simply repeating what worked the first time around will always reap diminishing returns. Perhaps the filmmakers could learn a few lessons from two short-lived yet rather beloved big screen franchises that were also based on outdated TV shows.

Both programs revolve around families that are outlandishly out of step with the world that resides outside their house. One is a creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky brood of horror movie tropes. The other is a grotesquely chipper clan so squeaky clean that they’d make the Von Trapps run for the hills (again). Each series spawned two movies from Paramount Pictures in the ’90s, and the big surprise in both cases was that the wholly unnecessary sequels were actually better than their hit predecessors. Just as 1996’s “A Very Brady Sequel” may have studied the blueprint of 1993’s “Addams Family Values,” the filmmakers behind the inevitable “23 Jump Street” may benefit from the following values shared by both families…

Christopher Daniel Barnes, Henriette Mantel, Christine Taylor, Jennifer Elise Cox, Jesse Lee Soffer, Paul Sutera, Olivia Hack, Gary Cole and Shelley Long in Arlene Sanford’s “A Very Brady Sequel.” Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Christopher Daniel Barnes, Henriette Mantel, Christine Taylor, Jennifer Elise Cox, Jesse Lee Soffer, Paul Sutera, Olivia Hack, Gary Cole and Shelley Long in Arlene Sanford’s “A Very Brady Sequel.” Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

1. Find a Change of Scenery

Staying at the same basic location will give audiences a sense of nagging claustrophobia. Why not open up the story to new settings while balancing multiple plot threads instead of sticking to just one? Transplanting stony faced Wednesday Addams (Christina Ricci in her finest role) to a summer camp loaded with smiley, overprivileged whippersnappers was an absolute masterstroke, inspiring many of screenwriter Paul Rudnick’s funniest lines. When bratty Amanda (Mercedes McNab) volunteers for a rescue demonstration by saying, “I’ll be the victim!” Wednesday quips, “All your life.” The Bradys also got quite a bit of comic mileage from their climactic trip to Hawaii, sending up everything from “The Bridge on the River Kwai” to AquaNet commercials.

Joan Cusack in Barry Sonnenfeld’s “Addams Family Values.” Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Joan Cusack in Barry Sonnenfeld’s “Addams Family Values.” Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

2. Throw In a Gold-Digging Imposter

Filling the villain role in both pictures is a greedy swindler who infiltrates the family house by pretending to be in the pursuit of romance. Debbie (a delightfully conniving Joan Cusack) feigns love for Fester (Christopher Lloyd) while devising a way to kill him off, thus inheriting his fortune. Though the Addamses strike her as rather odd, she’s loonier than any of them, especially when narrating a slideshow illustrating the reasons behind her wickedness (let’s just say it involves Malibu Barbie). In contrast, Trevor (Tim Matheson) is an invaluable straightman whose bewildered perspective often parallels that of the audience. Posing as Carol’s long-lost husband, Roy, Matheson gets laughs simply with his deadpan reactions, especially when the Bradys break into song.

Jennifer Elise Cox and RuPaul in Arlene Sanford’s “A Very Brady Sequel.” Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Jennifer Elise Cox and RuPaul in Arlene Sanford’s “A Very Brady Sequel.” Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

3. Give Your Scene-Stealer Plenty to Do

The breakout star of 1991’s “The Addams Family” was unquestionably Ricci, with her killer comic timing epitomized by the scene at her lemonade stand where she encounters a snooty girl scout (also McNab, playing a pint-sized Amanda) who repeatedly questions whether the lemonade is made from real lemons. When McNab tries to sell her cookies, Wednesday doesn’t miss a beat: “Are they made from real girl scouts?” In the sequel, Ricci’s role is expanded considerably, pairing her with a dweeby boyfriend and even forcing her to smile against her will (in an extended close-up of bravura strangeness).

Jan Brady (played brilliantly by Jennifer Elise Cox) was by far the funniest thing in 1995’s “The Brady Bunch Movie,” as she found her inner monologue overtaken by a Gollum-like split personality spawned from her seething jealousy over “flawless” sister Marcia (pitch-perfect Christine Taylor). The sequel raises the stakes by taking her psychosis to uproarious new heights, as she tries desperately to convince Marcia that her fake boyfriend, George Glass, is indeed real. This leads her to mistakenly dial a phone sex hotline, seek advice from her guidance counselor (RuPaul, who else?) and—in a scene that would make Buster Keaton proud—drag a mannequin to a nearby cafe and pretend to flirt with him even as his clumsily assembled body parts tumble to the ground. 

Christina Ricci in Barry Sonnenfeld’s “Addams Family Values.” Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Christina Ricci in Barry Sonnenfeld’s “Addams Family Values.” Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

4. Don’t Just Play It Safe

Instead of rehashing the same stale gags, why not venture into riskier and potentially more rewarding territory? Since American cinema continues to shy away from portraying Native American genocide, Wednesday’s scathing speech at the camp’s Thanksgiving pageant still packs an exhilaratingly irreverent punch (“My people will have pain and degradation. Your people will have stick shifts.”). Equally startling are the incestuous feelings shared between Marcia and her brother, Greg (Christopher Daniel Barnes), whose forbidden desire is awakened upon realizing their parents’ marriage has been a sham. This is a doubly funny joke in light of behind-the-scenes stories detailing how cast members from the original show had more-than-familial relations off-camera.

Christine Taylor, Paul Sutera, Jesse Lee Soffer, Tim Matheson, Jennifer Elise Cox, Olivia Hack and Christopher Daniel Barnes in Arlene Sanford’s “A Very Brady Sequel.” Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Christine Taylor, Paul Sutera, Jesse Lee Soffer, Tim Matheson, Jennifer Elise Cox, Olivia Hack and Christopher Daniel Barnes in Arlene Sanford’s “A Very Brady Sequel.” Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

5. Remember Why You Were Funny In the First Place

Most spinoffs of TV shows bend over backwards to distance themselves from their source material. These two films work precisely because they embrace what made the original shows so popular. Whereas “The Addams Family” inventively rode the tide of similar ’60s-era fish-out-of-water sitcoms, airing right alongside “The Munsters” and “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “The Brady Bunch” drew incredulous guffaws even upon its debut in 1969. There was never a time in recorded human history when the Bradys weren’t out of step with the real world, which is why nearly all of the laughs earned by the show were unintentional. It also served as surreal comfort food for viewers unaccustomed to “well-adjusted” family life. That’s what makes “A Very Brady Sequel,” in many ways, an even funnier picture. It understands precisely what made the show so appealing and uses it to its advantage, replicating the series down to its pedestrian score and AstroTurf lawn. It regards the Bradys much like “The Book of Mormon” regards Mormonism. With an eye as ruthlessly satirical as it is lovingly affectionate.

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